By Kimberly Poovey
A version of this essay originally appeared on The Glorious Table
I looked in the mirror, brow furrowed, taking in my brand-new, freshly unpregnant form. I had just spent nine months carrying an absolutely enormous baby boy, and it showed.
Purple stretch marks crisscrossed my abdomen like lightning bolts. My soft, saggy stomach had a new squishy, spongy quality. My breasts tingled and swelled, preparing for an influx of milk.
It was weeks before I dared to take a peek south of the border to assess the damage a 10-pound, 5-ounce baby with an off-the-charts head circumference could do.
It felt like I had molted. The old skin I had lived in for three decades was gone, leaving me shivering and fragile in an unfamiliar body. I felt like a stranger to myself for months, both physically and emotionally.
My emotional issues were fixed by hard work, a great therapist, and life-changing medication. The physical issues were more nebulous and harder to pin down.
My relationship with my body has been touch-and-go for most of my life.
By middle school, I was profoundly uncomfortable in my own skin. I’d shot up to six feet tall by the time I was thirteen, and I felt every awkward inch as I towered over my peers. I was bigger than everyone and desperate for attention and approval from the opposite sex.
I hated taking up so much space. So I tried to shrink, both physically and metaphorically. I starved myself. I allowed my heart to be bruised. I compared myself to other girls endlessly—never with positive results. These feelings lasted well into my college years.
It didn’t help that I was (am) often stuck in my own head. As a hyper-sensitive creative type, I spent most of my time woolgathering, writing, painting, and daydreaming. My body was just a vehicle for my mind, and I didn’t really know what to do with it. Combine that with early childhood trauma, and the results were complicated, often-contradictory feelings that I’m getting to the root of only now.
The church taught me that the body is just a temporary dwelling place. It taught me that believers ought to keep their focus on “our heavenly home.” That we are “but a vapor.”
(What does that even mean?)
But now I vehemently disagree with this easy dismissal of the physical body. Jesus himself lived an embodied life. He was born in a rush of blood and amniotic fluid. He ate and drank and slept. He got sick, he got tired, and he had to poop in holes in the ground. (Yes, Jesus pooped.)
Yes, our lives are fleeting and often too short, but that doesn’t mean our time within these imperfect bodies doesn’t matter. For thirty-three years, Jesus lived a messy life in a messy body, and so have I.
I don’t believe that we were created to focus on a nebulous idea of eternity. I believe we were placed in these particular bodies, in these particular families, countries, cities, and neighborhoods to show fully embodied love to ourselves and to those around us.
The experience of pregnancy pulled me out of my head and into my body in a way that nothing else had ever done. It’s impossible to ignore your physical body when someone else is taking it over. During pregnancy, I learned that self-care really meant “self-parenting:” caring for my body rather than just indulging its whims.
When I was lost in the anxieties of my mind, a swift kick to the uterus brought me right back to the present moment. I never felt more present than when I was constantly aware of the miraculous work my body was doing 24/7 as it grew new life. Seeing what my body could do, the same body I had starved and criticized and reviled for all those years, was nothing short of a stunning revelation. How could I not be thankful?
So what does embodiment look like? For me, embodiment has meant acknowledging, grieving, and processing the trauma that has been inflicted upon my body. Embodiment has meant caring for my body as I care for my own child: with nourishing food, regular movement, enough sleep, and good medical care.
Embodiment has meant working hard to feel comfortable in my own skin and offering my physical self the gift of radical acceptance. Embodiment has meant letting go of judgment and self-hatred. Embodiment has meant establishing a daily practice of being present within my own body and present in my surroundings rather than lost in my head. Embodiment, for me, means being actively thankful for every part of my body rather than critically picking it apart.
You, dear reader, are not just a diaphanous heavenly creature. You are a beautiful creation in possession of a beautiful, imperfect, flawed, and glorious body. Regardless of how you feel about your glorious body right this moment, it’s yours. It’s the only body you’re ever going to get. So let me encourage you to begin the journey of embracing the beauty of your physical self, without judgment or criticism.
You have a great body. Enjoy it.
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Kimberly Poovey is the founder of The Exvangelical Parent. She is a liberal misfit Enneagram 9 INFP who likes long walks on the beach, honey-habanero lattes, and Zoloft. After spending over a decade in the ministry world, she now writes and creates full time. She lives with her partner of 15 years and their 5-year-old son in the mountains of North Carolina.